The sponsor of a bill to make the University of Pikeville a public school has requested spending records for the president and all members of the Board of Regents of Morehead State University, who vigorously oppose the measure.
A Feb. 17 request under the Open Records Act from House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, asks for all records from the past five years showing expenses incurred by Morehead President Wayne Andrews, his staff and all 11 regents paid by the university.
The request asks for expenses related to travel, vacations, conventions, recreation, motor vehicles, country clubs or other memberships and any other items of value.
In addition, the request asks for documents related to the "improvement of the educational opportunities" in the 12-county region of southeastern Kentucky that UPike would serve instead of Morehead.
Stumbo wrote the letter on Friday, the same day that the Morehead Board of Regents voted on a resolution to oppose the plan to make UPike public because of limited resources statewide for higher education. Morehead officials have said that a public UPike — financed with coal severance tax dollars — could hurt Morehead's enrollment and program offerings.
In response, Stumbo issued a statement Friday calling the regents "small and petty."
"Kentuckians should see this for what it is: an attempt to block progress by a group of self-serving individuals," the statement said. "When all of the facts are brought out, I wouldn't be surprised if most of the board will resign or be asked to resign for how poorly they have served the people of this region."
In a statement issued by Stumbo's office Wednesday afternoon, he did not address why he had asked for personal expense records.
"The first issue that has to be addressed is the question of what educational services have been rendered in this 12-county area," the statement said. "If Morehead was aware of what appears to be a dramatic and troubling decrease in the attainment of college-level degrees, then what have they done and what are their plans, if any, to correct that? Morehead is a public institution, so they should have no problem sharing all of their records with anyone. We're just trying to find out the facts."
The debate has created a split between Stumbo and one of his chief lieutenants, House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook. Adkins, a Morehead alumnus, has recorded his opposition to Stumbo's bill in a series of telephone messages to Morehead alumni. The messages ask Morehead graduates to oppose House Bill 260.
"I am sure that Morehead State University will be glad to comply with any open records request," Adkins said yesterday in a statement. "I have full confidence that Morehead State University's administration, Board of Regents and staff have been good stewards of the taxpayers' money."
Morehead regent Julie Butcher of Lexington said she thought the motivation for Stumbo's open records request was "obvious," but she declined to specify what that meant.
"I don't think it is appropriate to respond in kind. I choose to continue to take the high road," she said. "We are offended we've been called these kinds of things, but I'm not going to let that control what my responsibility is."
She also said the request would cause a lot of work for university staff and would produce nothing of interest.
Stumbo spokesman Brian Wilkerson said Wednesday that his office has been in contact with Morehead officials to minimize time and trouble caused by the request.
UPike President Paul Patton, a former governor, declined to comment on Stumbo's request.
"I do think we've tried to focus on the fundamental problem: that our people are not achieving that higher level of education," Patton said.
When asked about the increasingly strident tones of the debate, Patton said he and Andrews had discussed the issue Monday night on Kentucky Education Television, and it had been "cordial."
Patton and Stumbo spoke Tuesday before the House Education Committee. A study on the issue is due to the governor by March 15.
Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford. Reporter Beth Musgrave contributed to this report.